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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Sting | I enjoy India’s paradoxes

Sting | I enjoy India’s paradoxes

In Jodhpur for a fund-raising concert, Sting talks about his earliest associations with India and the role of yoga in his life

English singer-songwriter StingPremium
English singer-songwriter Sting

During a practice session on the lawns of the majestic Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, English singer-songwriter Gordon Matthew Sumner, better known as Sting, was contemplating which song they should start the evening with. “Should we do Englishman in New York, Magic (Every little thing she does is magic) or Faith (If I ever lose my faith in you)?" he whispered into the microphone, with an air of cool composure that is such a stark contrast to the intensity he picks up when he starts singing. Englishman was chosen eventually, probably for its easy, lyrical melody. And it set the pace for the night.

At the invitation of the erstwhile ruler of Jodhpur, Gaj Singh II, Sting was in the city over the weekend for a private concert for the maharaja’s 250 guests at the inaugural Jodhpur One World Retreat. The Retreat is a fund-raiser for the Indian Head Injury Foundation, founded by Gaj Singh six years ago after his son, Shivraj Singh, suffered a head injury while playing polo. “We learnt the hard way how grim the situation in India is for head injury patients," he says. Shivraj leads a normal life now. The foundation works to spread awareness and build infrastructure for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury in India.

The three-day Retreat ending Sunday, conceptualized by Showtime Group, saw a series of events, including talks by Naresh Trehan of Medicity, Medanta, Gurgaon, and Rajendra Prasad, a consultant neurosurgeon and spine surgeon at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi.

The grand finale was the concert by Sting in the Baradari Gardens of Umaid Bhawan Palace on Saturday night. The band included Dominic Miller on guitar, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Peter Tickell on fiddle, David Sancious on keyboards and Jo Lawry as back-up singer, on fiddle and percussion. Some of the musician’s most iconic, recognizable numbers were performed, including the melancholic Fields of Gold and When We Dance. He picked up tempo with Every Breath You Take and Do Do Do Da Da Da. The evening wrapped up with the beautifully written, soulful Fragile, Sting’s coarse but haunting voice filling the air.

Earlier in the day, while he spoke to Mint, he had hoped that “by the end of the night, everyone will be dancing". As it turned out, the guests left their sit-down dinners to be closer to the stage, dancing and lilting, a minute into the first song. Edited excerpts from the interview:

What brings you to Jodhpur? Tell us about your association with Gaj Singh and the Head Injury Foundation.

I’ve been to Jodhpur many times. In fact I stayed here a couple of years ago as a guest of the maharaja. About a year ago he called me and said that he’s got this Head Injury Foundation. India has the dubious distinction of being the head injury capital of the world. He was very concerned, his son had had the polo accident and he wanted to do something to change people’s attitude, help research on how to treat people better. It’s a very noble cause. He asked if I would come and entertain his guests and help raise some money for the foundation. I agreed because it is an important thing to do, and I love coming to India.

What are your earliest associations with India?

I first came here in 1980. It was a Police concert. We played in Mumbai and we played in the open air. It seemed like the whole of India was there. We had everybody from old Parsi ladies to the chief of police, there were sadhus, some hippies, some hip kids; it looked like the entire spectrum. Then I kept coming back and travelled the country. In the 1990s, I went to the Yamunotri and Gangotri, I did the pilgrimage, I walked up, slept on the side of the road. I kept coming back, sometimes on the invitation of the maharaja. I saw the whole spectrum, the poverty and the fantastic wealth. I enjoy India’s paradoxes, it’s a complicated society, it’s not perfect, and I enjoy that.

For instance yoga, has it altered your life?

I took up yoga 25 years ago, maybe because of my interest in India. I practise every day, I meditate. I have a very rudimentary understanding of Indian religion, I’m not particularly religious. But I owe a great deal to yoga. It’s given me, maybe, another decade of my career.

How do you reinvent your songs every time? I’ve heard so many different versions of ‘Englishman in New York’. How different does it feel from the first time you wrote it?

My job, really, is not to reproduce something I wrote 30 years ago. It’s to perform it as if I’ve written it this afternoon, with the same energy, same adventure. Sometimes it becomes very different. We change the key, the tempo, I change lyrics, the arrangement. It’s an improvisation. It’s more like jazz.

With tonight’s (Saturday’s) audience, I’m not sure whether they’ve seen me before, so I’ll be judging it number by number. By the end of the night, I hope everybody will be up and dancing. That’s my job, to entertain people.

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Updated: 14 Mar 2013, 12:54 PM IST
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